Tourism has skyrocketed in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released in 2010 after 20 years of house arrest. There is so much demand for beds that hotels cannot be built fast enough, leading to shoddy, ill-planned development. Lands are bulldozed with impunity, temples are poorly restored and diesel-fueled vehicles pollute the air in the rush to capitalize on the demand.
Perhaps the saddest example of this is at Inle Lake, one of Myanmar's greatest natural assets and a tourist must-see. The lake is huge — 14 miles north to south and 7 miles east to west — and ringed by bamboo-hut villages and floating gardens separated by narrow canals. Fishermen, in traditional baggy pants and conical hats, earn their livelihood throwing nets with their hands and rowing with their feet.
Hotels are springing up around the lake at an alarming rate, and increasing numbers of loud, diesel-driven longboats — the only form of tourist transportation — charge across the lake with no concern for noise, water or air pollution or the effect on the fish upon which the villages rely. Litter is building up in the water and rimming the lake near floating restaurants and shops, suggesting that trash disposal didn't figure into tourism planning.
Inle is worth a visit, but go soon. The very reasons visitors flock to Myanmar may disappear if we do not leave a light footprint and encourage, with our dollars, authenticity and sustainability.
Info: Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, http://www.myanmartourism.org